Wednesday, July 07, 2021

RIP Carlton Jackson

Portland drummer Carlton Jackson died last weekend, he's been such a pillar of the jazz community, a knowledgeable authority, and one of the handful of top drummers in the region for so long I was surprised to learn that he was only 60. I first saw him play with Tom Grant, in the late 80s. A few years later he made a big impression when I was to sub for him with Dan Balmer's trio with the bassist Jeff Leonard. Seeing him play then really impressed me, for the first time, that you have to be able to burn at a low volume. It's taken a long time to get a handle on that, but that was a big lesson. Years later I mentioned how intimidating that was for me, and mentioned something about “needing a barf bag” in that situation— it was a feeling he related to. 

What do I say? He was a professional artist in the fullest sense of both words. RIP

Playing here with pianist Gordon Lee on the album This Path

Gordon Lee on Facebook:

Carlton was a great friend and a great musician. He was a musical soul mate. I played with him two weeks ago and had gigs coming up with him. He was also a musical scholar knowing all styles of music. And he knew movies like no one else. I miss my buddy.

Bassist Jeff Leonard

I have to add my voice to the chorus of all who are mourning the untimely passing of Carlton Jackson, a true legend of the Portland music scene. Between gigs with Tom Grant and Dan Balmer (among others), I would estimate that I played north of 1500 gigs with Carlton over the years, and am a better musician for having done so. Carlton had the most encyclopedic knowledge of music of anyone I know, as evidenced by his unparalleled versatility as a drummer as well as his incredible music curation on his KMHD radio show. His drumming was authoritative, powerful, uncompromising, and deeply sensitive, regardless of the gig or genre. He also had a great voice, in every sense that word implies: singing, playing, speaking, teaching, etc. His loss leaves a huge hole, but I am grateful to have known and played music with him.

RIP Carlton.

Pianist George Mitchell

While taking a walk with my lovely wife Terri yesterday, got a call from drummer Brian Foxworth to tell me that Carlton Jackson had passed away. I was in shock and disbelief the rest of the walk. Didn't want to be the first to post anything and hoped maybe it was just a rumor or a false alarm. 

The thing I always appreciated about Carlton was his love for music of all styles! Whether it was Rock, Blues, Country, Klezmer, R and B, Jazz, Hip Hop, Big Band , Small band, Carlton loved it. Hell we even backed up Joanne Castle once at a retirement home in Gresham!

Mostly we played together in Dan Balmer's various bands where his versatility was greatly appreciated, as Dan's music covers many styles. Because they played so much in Tom Grant's band, they had a strong musical relationship.

The last times I played with Carlton was at Clyde's with John Mazzocco (bass), and either Alan Hager or Neal Grandstaff (Vocals/guitar). That was a blast and was hoping to play with Carlton again in that band.

I'm sure Carlton has reconnected with Linda Hornbuckle and Janice Scroggins playing Gospel and Blues or perhaps Thara Memory playing some Funk and Jazz. Maybe he's playing with Don Alberts, Rick Crittenden and Rick Green in a creative jazz group.

Perhaps Mel Lewis is having him sub in the Mel Lewis/Thad Jones Big Band, one of Carlton's favorites. Wherever he is, Carlton's making the music sound  great! 

I'll not only miss his drumming, but his friendship. RIP Carlton and know that down here on earth, we love you.

Drummer Gary Hobbs:

Very sorry to say that Carlton Jackson has passed on. He was a fine drummer and a very important part of the Portland music scene. He just celebrated his 60th birthday. I don't know any details but will share anything that I find out. Rest in peace Carlton. 

Trombonist Stan Bock

I’ve had to wait to try to find words that express my deep sadness and yet deep gratitude to have known Carlton.  So many wonderful gigs playing music with him.  So many great conversations with him.  

I first saw Carlton while I was still on active duty with the USAF Band at McChord AFB.  My friend Scott and I saw the Tom Grant Band at Cafe Vivo in Portland and I was so impressed with his playing.  All the fellas played so well but CJ seemed to be so effortless. 

Fast forward a few years and I met Carlton when I played with Sammy Epstein’s band; then later with the Jackson/Mills Big Band.  It didn’t matter what kind of music, Carlton always did what was needed.   I miss the Big Band because we played great music with great players and CJ led it all from the drum chair. 

At the Blues Festival one year, I was walking with Thara Memory when Thara stopped to listen to the act on the other stage from where we had just played.  “I wish my students could hear this; That’s a professional drummer!”  Carlton was backing an out of town blues artist playing exactly what was needed. 

There were 20 years of working/hanging with CJ at the Mel Brown Jazz Workshop.  Lots of music, conversations, and laughter with him and I will miss him.  He was the real deal.

Saxophonist John Nastos

Carlton Jackson was such an important part of the earliest and most formative moments of my musical upbringing in Portland. Some of the first live jazz I remember seeing around town was Dan Balmer’s band. That was, and is, some of my favorite music, and Carlton’s sound was a huge part of that music.

Throughout middle school and high school, I went to the Mel Brown Summer Jazz Workshop every year, which was, by far, the most important part of my musical education. Carlton was a *presence* there, not just because of the wealth of musical knowledge that he brought to the table, but because of the unyielding kindness and passion that he always brought.

As I got stronger on my instrument, I got to start sitting in with some of the professional groups around town. The Carlton Jackson/Dave Mills Big Band was playing at a club called La Rumba and they were kind enough to let me play my first notes with a real big band when Warren Rand let me sit in on a few tunes. The things I remember most vividly about that band at the time are Douglas Peebles’ bass trombone sound, Warren’s alto sound, and Carlton driving the band from the drum chair. Years later, I got to play in this band during its tenure at Secret Society. Carlton, of course, was still leading the band from the drums masterfully. He was always enthusiastic about sharing a new recording he had just dug up, always excited to play, , and always so genuinely happy to be with other musicians and friends.

The last two gigs I got to play with Carlton were at Gordon Lee’s house, playing porch concerts. I’m struck now by how in every important way, Carlton was *exactly* the same last month when I got to play with him as he was 20+ years ago when I heard him with Balmer’s group and was being taught by him at Mel’s camp — he was always a friendly face, and unrelentingly nice person, and had an excitement about both playing and listening to music rivaling anyone I’ve ever met.

We'll all miss you, Carlton.

Drummer Ji Tanzer

I’m in shock about Carlton Jackson’s passing. The man was a TRUE music lover, and a beautiful drummer. I have so many memories of watching him at Opus and the Bra and being in absolute awe of how quietly he could play with maximum intensity and sweetness. I just can’t believe it…

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